“I know I’m not the first person to say this,” Beemer said, “but it’s crazy, to me, to go into a Safeway and buy a papaya grown in Mexico.”
Yet when visiting his parents in West Maui, he’s frustrated.
“The Hana farmers come to the market at the community college. I can find Hana produce easier on Oahu than I have ever been able to get it on Maui.”
The Sullivan Family of Cos. — Foodland, Sack ’N Save, Food Pantry — aims to change that with the opening Wednesday of the Lahaina Farms, a full service grocery with a focus on upscale, local and organic foods. It’s located in the Lahaina Gateway lifestyle center.
Lahaina Farms is a first for Foodland but if it clicks, there will be more, not necessarily named “Lahaina Farms.”
It’s not a Whole Foods or Fresh Market copycat, although it has many elements of those Mainland chains.
For one thing, it has straight aisles like a regular supermarket. (Whole Foods and Fresh Market distribute their wares in artfully arranged but inconvenient pods, not aisles.) For another, right beside the exotic cooking oils (like organic coconut oil, as well as many kinds of fancy olive oil) sit Crisco and Wesson oil.
Simon Cutts, the “natural gourmet director” who chooses what products to stock, said his aim was to make Lahaina Farms a place where a busy mom with kids could do her regular as well as her gourmet shopping in one stop.
Cutts worked for an organic market that was absorbed by Whole Foods, which he left to come to Hawaii a year and a half ago.
Lahaina Farms is only 14,000 square feet, which is less than a third of the size of the Kihei Safeway, Maui’s largest supermarket. Cutts made a close study of markets in Manhattan, which are masters at getting a lot of variety in a small space — Zabar’s, Grace’s, D’Agostino’s and the market at Grand Central Station were his models.
The local difference is in the fish spread. At Zabar’s on the Upper West Side, it’s smoked whitefish; at Lahaina Farms, it’s smoked ahi.
Some selections were easy to make, Cutts said. Foodland has had good success with an organic Greek yogurt, so that’s at Lahaina Farms. Cutts will be experimenting to see what else west siders prefer.
Local suppliers have been beating a path to his back door. One, for example, is Maui Kombucha, a Makawao firm that makes bottled teas. These are available mostly at East Maui outlets, but Cutts had a crate of mushroom-flavored Maui Kombucha White Tea in the warehouse Wednesday.
It wasn’t yet on the shelves because he hadn’t completed the paperwork. Wednesday was a soft opening.
Store manager Clifford Rafanan was “very excited” to be chosen for the experiment and very busy.
“If this store were an eight-cylinder car, we’d be running on six cylinders,” he said.
Rafanan, Maui born and raised (born at “Kula San,” now Kula Hospital, as a matter of fact), was manager of the Kihei and Lahaina Foodlands for 10 years. He’s never been inside a Whole Foods or a Fresh Market, but he knows the model.
“We are about 70 to 75 percent natural, gourmet and organic, an upscale-type store,” he said.
The fresh produce will be sourced as much as possible from local suppliers, from Maui Pineapple on down. Lahaina Farms is working with the Hawaii Organic Farmers Association to find farmers with products suitable for the shop.
Meanwhile, Cutts was taking notes from customers about things they’d like him to stock. One was Sharkies all natural gummy treats, which one west sider said he has been driving to Paia to get.
Another customer wanted Veggie Booty spinach and kale snacks. Already on the shelves, Cutts was able to say.
Cutts made a point of stocking a variety of wheat- and gluten-free products for people with celiac sprue disease. These include cereal and a gluten-free beer made with sorghum.
“This is probably the only place you’ll see breakfast cereal shelved next to beer,” he said.
In one corner, TV sommelier Marvin Chang was showing off the R. Field Wine Co. section. Sullivan Cos. bought out R. Field in 1999. This is the third R. Field Wine Co. shop in Hawaii, the first on Maui.
It includes gourmet wines, oils, sausages, beluga caviar, etc., as well as wine. In fact, Chang has about 60 R. Field selections of uncommon wines, including some priced over $250 a bottle.
Over in the deli section, Ross Kaya, who learned baking at the age of 14 at his family’s Robert’s and Hatada bakeries in Hilo, has pastries from Cakewalk Bakery in Haiku. And, a new thing in his 18-year career, a full deli to supervise.
This includes made-to-order salads, organic garlic potato chips fried at the store, deli sandwiches and prepared entrees.
In the produce department, there were seven varieties of fresh mushrooms, and in the butcher and fish shop, organic poultry, beef, lamb and pork, plus poke and local fish.
“We are proud to feature many locally made and island-grown products and have traveled to many markets on the Mainland to ensure our store incorporates the best and newest ideas and offerings, too,” said Jenai Wall, chairwoman of The Sullivan Family of Cos.
• Harry Eagar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oahu visitors Bryce and Margo Beemer usually shop the farmers market at Kapiolani Community College and say it is easier to find organic Hana produce there than it is on Maui. So while visiting Bryce’s parents, they were eager to check out local papaya at Lahaina Farms.
The Maui News HARRY EAGAR photo